Here’s a tale of boldness, stupidity and general bone-headedness that should, if nothing else, provide a moment of amusement.
A recently unsealed federal affidavit has made its way onto the web with quite some gusto, having revealed the alleged pot smuggling practices of a bunch of baggage handlers working for Southwest Airlines. Apparently, there was a pretty enormous distribution operation in effect that went all the way from Little Rock in Arkansas to Oakland in California. It’s not uncommon to hear of folk trying to use domestic airlines to ferry pot about, but when it’s the actual airline staff that are involved…well, let’s just say the phrase ‘two sandwiches short of a picnic’ comes to mind.
So far, no people have been arrested in conjunction with the weed moving operation, three are on the run in parts unknown and a further two are already in the slammer for other crimes. Seriously – it’s one thing to try your luck with half-brained smuggling techniques, but when you’re doing it right under the noses of who you’re working for while you’re working for them, kudos on new levels of stupidity!
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, it was all made possible by the (rather scary) fact that when baggage handlers turn up for work, they don’t have to go through the same kind of screening as the regular air passengers. As such, a bunch of them had no trouble in carrying large backpacks full of weed right out there onto the tarmac, which was then passed onto their contacts – plane passengers that had already been through screening – in order to be taken to the destination. These passengers were found to have been flying to New Orleans, Little Rock and various other places to sell the stuff, before heading back for more.
The fact that they managed to identify and capitalise on such a glaring loophole in airport security doesn’t exactly give you a great deal of confidence in the way they do things in the State airport-wise.
Named and Shamed
The three employees of Southwest Airlines at the centre of the whole thing have been very much named and shamed. All from Oakland and all working as baggage handlers, Kenneth Fleming, 32, Michael Vindeau, 28, and Keith Mayfield, 34, were all found to be using the carrier’s regular services to ferry more than just people around the country. At least one of them, Mr, Mayfield, had also clearly been undertaking a fair bit of money-laundering.
Of course, Southwest Airlines has been quick to offer its full reassurance that the security measures it and the airports it uses have in place are robust and effective, even if the evidence suggests quite the contrary.
“We are fully cooperating with authorities and will continue to work with law enforcement, airport authorities and our security partners to perform due diligence in upholding high security standards,” wrote a spokeswoman in a statement to the Guardian newspaper.
An interesting statement from the TSA was released after the story broke with regard to the group’s policy on drug screenings. Quite simply, they said that because the rules on what’s legal and what isn’t (drug-wise) varies so much from State to State, they no longer do any real searches of passengers for drugs. However, if and when drugs are found during regular screening practices, they are taken away from the passenger and not given back to them. But then again, the laws on marijuana use and ownership in California have existed on a rather blurred line for some time now, so it’s hardly surprising that plenty of folk don’t seem to know if they’re coming or going.